D.C. is No Place for Conservation

Have politicians lost the right to make policy for wildlife and wild places?

The failure of congress to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) seems to exemplify the convoluted maze that conservation efforts have descended to in D.C. With both chambers of congress and the executive branch controlled by Republicans  – the party that historically boasts of being the champion of sportsmen – the LWCF expired in September and never made it to a floor vote at the close of the 115th Congress in December.

For those unfamiliar with this program: In 1964 the Land and Water Conservation Fund was established to safeguard our natural areas, water resources and cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities for Americans. Congress annually appropriates an amount not to exceed $900 million generated from offshore oil and gas leases – no taxpayer dollars are used.  Since inception, LWCF has provided $3.9 billion in state grants contributing to over 42,000 projects benefitting every county in the country. (Click here to see how LWCF has benefitted your state.)

The LWCF is almost universally agreed upon as a crucial funding tool for conservation efforts in this country. In November a coalition of over 200 fishing, hunting and conservation organizations from 33 states sent a letter to congressional leaders urging passage, to no avail.

In a last-hour ditch effort during the waining hours of the 115th Congress a ‘lands package’ comprised of over 100 bills was blocked by the objections of one Senator, Mike Lee, R-UT. Bundling conservation bills for broader consensus has been a common practice in congressional sessions. But all-or-nothing tactics is also gambling with wild places. “We are always, always going to get sidelined as individual bills, not being important enough to take up the time of the Senate. It is only collectively, in a bundle like we saw tonight, that they can be considered,” commented Senator Cantwell, D–WA.

If the Land and Water Conservation Fund is not important enough to be considered on its own merits when every single county in the country has seen the positive impacts of the fund, what then does reach the Senate’s bar of significance?

Senator Gardner, D-CO, shared some additional insight, ”It is frustrating to me that some of these bills have languished for year after year after year after year that received unanimous support out of committee. I remember coming to this floor a year ago offering a unanimous consent agreement. It was objected to because somebody didn’t get what they wanted, somebody else didn’t get what they wanted, and somebody else didn’t get what they wanted, so everything was objected to.” By this account, LWCF along with many other common-sense conservation bills are held hostage. Imagine a legislative body that cannot pass a bill benefitting nearly every American in every county without the use of taxpayer money because Senators would rather have leverage.

But maybe the most damning evidence that it’s time to seize control of conservation efforts from congress came from Senator Daines, R-MT who said, “The Land and Water Conservation Fund–the reason we need to permanently reauthorize it is that tonight you could see that we didn’t get it done. In fact, it expired on September 30, and here we are, halfway through December, and we still do not have the reauthorization of LWCF. That is why we need to make it permanent; you can’t depend on this institution.” And Senator Bennett, D-CO added, “Congress’ failure to act on the Land and Water Conservation Fund this year is unacceptable and shows just how broken this place is.”

Given the overwhelming support by so many for the LWCF including from both ends of the political spectrum, it is hard to disagree with Senators’ damning self-assessments. Where does that leave us? Who can be trusted inside the Beltway to act in the best interests of wildlife, wild places and the American people?

Unless you experience the public lands personally, you lack the knowledge and mandate to make policy for wild places and wildlife. We’re asking every member of congress:

When and where did you last hike, bike, camp, birdwatch, hunt or fish on public lands? (Includes National Parks, National Monuments, National Forests, BLM, National Wildlife Refuge.)

Parks and monuments inside the Beltway do not count. Tours on a bus do not count. How many have touched this land, walked where the pavement ends, breathed unfiltered air outside the D.C. bubble?

Ask your Senators and Representatives – click here for a list of congressional Twitter accounts.

Follow the hashtags: #wildsenators #wildreps #wildcongress